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"I want the family farm - the backbone of our country's heritage - to thrive and survive for future generations."

Articles/Press Releases

Empower Your "First Responders"

By Jane Eckert

We’ve all heard the phrase “bad news travels fast.”  

Well, here’s a new one: “bad service travels even faster.” 

I recently read the results of a nationwide survey conducted by Dimensional Research, and I want to share with you some of their findings related to customer service interactions.  In particular, I want to share some ideas on how you can stay on top of negative feedback.  It’s going to happen, sooner or later, so prepare for it now to minimize the damage.

The study I mentioned was looking particularly at customers who had a bad experience.  The results showed that over half of these unhappy respondents boycotted the store—that’s right, they stopped making purchases from the business for at least two years!

These results really should come as no great surprise.  We’ve all seen angry customers, and probably been in their shoes a time or two.   But as a business owner, can you really afford to lose half of your unsatisfied customers through bad service, negligent interaction or untrained staff? Customers today really have a choice of providers for fresh fruits and vegetables and no longer can we think that our farm markets are their only source for locally grown foods. Our supermarkets are now purchasing and promoting locally grown, our specialty food markets tout “buy local” and of course our farmers markets offer an abundant number of choices for the same products that you grow.

But the damage isn’t done! The study also shows that a full 95% of the respondents that experienced bad service told someone else about it.  Just imagine Monday in the office when people are sharing their weekend stories and someone starts talking about the poor service or disinterested employee at your pick your own. But that was yesterday.  Today’s dissatisfied customers have all the social media options available to vent…consider the number of people that can hear about their friends unsatisfying adventure via Facebook or Twitter.  They can fire off an angry salvo via smartphone at almost at the same time the poor service is happening!  The advent of social media makes us all now more vulnerable for immediate bad feedback.

Most of you are already telling yourself, “but we have wonderful staff and provide exceptional service.”  I always think when farm marketers tell me that they aren’t being realistic as to what can happen when just one customer is having a bad day and your products or service are not up to par. It’s really no longer the big things that can make a customer angry or disgruntled.  It can be just the small things of a few over-ripe berries, too long of wait at the check line, or you run out of sweet corn at 3 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon.  Customers today are expecting near perfection and it is quite difficult for us to meet those expectations 24/7, but we have to always try to do so.

What can we do about bad customer reactions to service and products that we provide? We need to be always mindful of not only the big things but the small things that can cause aggravation and bad experiences for our customers. Remember that most of our customers go out of their way to drive to our farms for the products we offer.  You need to prepare yourself and your staff to react like trained “first responders”, offering immediate solutions to remedy any situation.

Here are a few of the situations we need to be watching and I’m sure you and your staff can add to this list.

  1. Product displays need to be always fresh and full – no over-ripe or seconds should be sold at full price.
  2. Sampling food areas should be always kept full and sanitary, or removed.
  3. Checkout lines need to be monitored for speedy handling.  There is a reason why supermarkets have the 12 item lines or less and perhaps so should you.
  4. Prompt customer greetings with a cheery “hello” and “thank you” are always appreciated.

Employees should never be too busy to acknowledge a customer in their department and offer help if needed. Employees should stop their conversations with other employees-even if it is business related-until they have completed the service to the customer.

  1. Provide assistance in the fields and orchard to families and seniors that may need some special help.
  2. Enable your employees to address a customer concern as soon as they hear it.  Make them an authorized “first” responder…the research points out those customers are particularly irritated to have to “repeat” their situation to multiple people to gain satisfaction.

I know that you and your staff can come up with more of these simple situations that can be monitored and measured. If you are not talking about them with your staff then you are probably ignoring a significant part of training.

As far as social media, it is also important to monitor what is being posted on your Facebook pages and other online customer review sites such as Yelp and Trip Advisor. There are websites you can use to monitor your social media profile, such as http://socialmention.com.

You may not have heard the complaints in the farm market, but once they hit the Internet you need to respond.  Posting a simple response of “we’re sorry to learn that you were recently not happy with our service and we’d sure like to make it right for you. Please give us a call so we can respond directly because this situation does not meet the level of service that we strive to provide.”

Our customers want to be heard and they want to know that we’ve listened.  Often it’s just the venting to an employee or the owner about the situation that will satisfy them.  Take time to listen, respond, smile and speak with them personally to let them know you care and want their continued business.  In this way, the bad service news can be turned into a positive outcome.

Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of www.RuralBounty.com, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.